South Korea Must Coordinate with Japan, U.S. on North Korea Policy

With the change of administration in Washington, whether Japan, the United States and South Korea will be able to take concerted action to deal with North Korea is once again being put to the test. First of all, South Korea needs to change its conciliatory stance toward North Korea.

In a telephone conference, U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in confirmed their commitment to the U.S.-South Korea alliance and the rebuilding of their strategies for North Korea. They also reportedly agreed that improving Japan-South Korea relations and cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea are important for regional stability.

At the present stage, however, the United States and South Korea have only agreed to these points in principle. It will not be easy for South Korea to build a cooperative framework with Japan and the United States through concrete policies and achieve results such as in the denuclearization of North Korea.

To maintain deterrence against North Korea and a system to respond promptly to contingencies, it is important for the United States and South Korea to repeatedly hold large-scale military drills. It is desirable for them to accelerate talks on resuming bilateral joint military exercises, which were suspended under the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

As to the resumption of military exercises, Moon expressed his thinking that South Korea can discuss the matter with North Korea. He seems to give consideration to the fact that Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, opposes the drills. But this is a matter that the United States and South Korea should decide, so it is unreasonable to ask North Korea its opinion on the issue.

Moon has promoted his policy in which South Korea mediates between the United States and North Korea to ease tension between the two countries and thereby brings peace to the Korean Peninsula. The summit between Trump and Kim was the culmination of his efforts, but no progress has been made in denuclearizing North Korea.

The Biden administration is conducting a comprehensive review of its policy toward North Korea. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would consider implementing measures against North Korea, including additional sanctions, noting that the situation of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development was worsening.

In other words, the United States will not pursue the “Trump-style” approach in which Washington was trying to solve the North Korean issue through personal relations between leaders. Moon has also worked hard to build a close relationship with Kim, but he must recognize the changing situation.

Kim has announced North Korea’s policies, including downsizing nuclear weapons and improving the performance of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development is a serious threat and has become a destabilizing factor in the region. Moon should take this reality seriously.

Improving Japan-South Korea relations is essential to realize smooth cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea in dealing with North Korea policies. However, the South Korean side’s rehashing of historical issues has caused a cooling in bilateral relations.

The legal foundation of Japan-South Korea relations has been undermined by unfair rulings by South Korean courts in lawsuits over former so-called comfort women and former wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula. The Moon administration must exercise responsibility and implement corrective measures.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 10, 2021.